While the fourth-century fragment of a papyrus that allegedly claims that Jesus was married is being authenticated, the world is wondering: Could Jesus have been married? But, wait, doesn’t that mean that Jesus had sex?
According to James Tabor, a biblical scholar at the University of North Carolina, the “real fear” is that “Jesus is a normal human being and he’s sexual.” Tabor tells NBC News, “You can’t think of Jesus like that because he’s too holy.”
The question of Jesus’ marriage thousands of year ago may not seem relevant to today’s church, but a number of religious groups base their models for current living off of what they believe Scripture says on the matter.
The New York Times reports that the question of Jesus’ marital status is “relevant today, when global Christianity is roiling over the place of women in ministry and the boundaries of marriage.”
The Romans Catholic Church, for example, “has reiterated the teaching that the priesthood cannot be opened to women and married men because of the model set by Jesus.” Should the parchment be validated, then the example of Jesus changes. And the Vatican must address that in some way.
For other churches, the idea of Jesus being married is not a new one. The Unification Church believes that Jesus was supposed to get married, and the early teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints states that Jesus was married, and even fathered children. According to Ben Witherington III, a professor at the Ashbury Theological Seminary, told NBC News that these beliefs “have more to do with [the Mormon and the Unification Church’s] own theology of marriage rather that with scriptures.”
Withering goes on to say that the belief that Jesus was celibate “brought on a very deficient view of the goodness of human sexuality as a gift from God.” Catholics, he argues, cannot picture Jesus as married “because that would have ‘tainted’ his holy image.”
So the debate seems to boil down to this question: Is sex good, according to God? If it is, then there doesn’t seem to be a problem with the idea of Jesus being married, of having intercourse with his wife, and of having her be a part of his ministry. If sex is somehow “unholy,” however, then the whole idea of a perfectly good and righteous Son of God is thrown out the window with a tiny piece of parchment that is smaller than a library card.